Lakeland Bank and Hackensack Meridian Health are sponsoring valuable opioid education for teenagers this school year in collaboration with the FBI-Newark Division, FBI Newark Citizens Academy Alumni Association, and bergenPAC. The program will be presented to New Jersey middle and high school students in an effort to combat the growing prescription drug and heroin abuse epidemic. It involves interactive presentations, musical performances, and a screening of the documentary Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict which was produced by the FBI and the DEA.


“At Hackensack University Medical Center, we are committed to creating healthier communities by by caring for patients suffering from addiction and mental illness just as we would care for patients who have cancer or cardiac diseases,” said Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, president and chief hospital executive, Hackensack University Medical Center and executive vice president of Population Health, Hackensack Meridian Health. “We look forward to forming innovative partnerships like this to help end the stigma around behavioral health and treat addiction once and for all.”


Hackensack University Medical Center has been on the forefront of combating the opioid epidemic.  Michael A. Kelly, M.D., chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Hackensack University Medical Center, has led national discussions and lectured across the country about the need to minimize the use of opioids. Hackensack University Medical Center has been limiting the use of opioids by offering patients a personalized pain management program, replacing intravenous opioids with a multimodal approach, using several non-opioid agents before, during and after surgery.

“On behalf of Hackensack Meridian Health, I am very pleased that we are expanding our program to educate our youth on the dangers of opioids,” said Dr. Kelly. “Last year, the students who participated were very engaged and attentive to the information we presented. It’s incredibly important to educate students, especially at a younger age, on the dangers of these highly-addictive drugs.  If we can save one life, it’s worth it.” 


“Lakeland Bank supported this innovative program last year and due to the positive response and continued interest from the school community, the Bank is pleased to continue to fund this program that takes direct aim at the opioid addiction epidemic,” said Thomas Shara, president and chief executive officer of Lakeland Bank. “We are honored to be a partner in this unique collaboration and join the other organizations that are all deeply passionate about raising awareness of this major public health crisis in our State.”


Program Overview

This assembly program is built around the Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict documentary and has been presented to an estimated 1,500 students with the goal to reach as many students as possible throughout New Jersey. A unique aspect of the program is that it opens with an interactive rap performance by Derick Cross aka D. Cross who also paints a Chasing the Dragon banner for the schools to display. During the assembly, FBI and Hackensack University Medical Center representatives with first-hand knowledge of the epidemic share their insights about the crisis and provide information on how to prevent addiction.


“Part of the FBI’s mission is to connect with our community through outreach,” said Special Agent Mary Gardocki, who leads students through the video presentation. “It is incredibly moving to witness the reactions of our student audiences. Far too many students breakdown because they have, unfortunately, been directly affected by the opioid crisis. This just reaffirms how very important this type of educational program is and we hope it is providing knowledge and understanding to everyone who participates.”


“Beyond bergenPAC uses performing arts in entertaining and interactive assemblies to deliver important lessons on character-building and good decision-making,” said Dominic Roncace, president and chief executive officer of bergenPAC. “We appreciate our partners’ support of our efforts to have health and law enforcement officials engage [our] this program’s audience in a meaningful way.”


Program History

The collaborative effort was established in 2018 after the idea for an educational program to address drug addiction awareness for the youth in the community was proposed by staff at bergenPAC. The goal was to use performing arts and interactive assemblies to deliver lessons on character-building and good decision-making. As community ambassadors for the FBI, members of the FBI Newark Citizens Academy Alumni Association were instrumental in bringing the FBI into the partnership.


Recent Presentations:

Janis E. Dismus Middle, Englewood: Oct. 23

Dwight Morrow High School, Englewood: Oct. 30

Thomas Jefferson Middle School, Teaneck: Jan. 8


Upcoming Presentations:

Washington Park School, Totowa: May 14

Carl W. Goetz Middle School, Jackson Township: Date TBA

McAuliffe Middle School, Jackson Township: Date TBA

Classical Academy Charter School of Clifton: Date TBA



Lakeland Bank is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Lakeland Bancorp, Inc. (NASDAQ:LBAI), which has over $6 billion in total assets. With an extensive branch network and commercial lending centers throughout New Jersey and Highland Mills, N.Y., the Bank offers business and retail banking products and services. Business services include commercial loans and lines of credit, commercial real estate loans, loans for healthcare services, asset based lending, equipment financing, small business loans and lines, and cash management services. Consumer services include online and mobile banking, home equity loans and lines, mortgage options and wealth management solutions. Lakeland is proud to be recognized as one of America’s Best-In-State Banks by Forbes and Statista, rated a 5-Star Bank by Bauer Financial and named one of New Jersey’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies by NJBIZ. Visit for more information.



Hackensack Meridian Health is a leading not-for-profit health care organization that is the largest, most comprehensive and truly integrated health care network in New Jersey, offering a complete range of medical services, innovative research and life-enhancing care.


Hackensack Meridian Health comprises 17 hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties, which includes three academic medical centers – Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, JFK Medical Center in Edison; two children’s hospitals - Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital in Neptune; nine community hospitals – Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair, Ocean Medical Center in Brick, Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge, Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, and Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin; a behavioral health hospital – Carrier Clinic in Belle Mead; and two rehabilitation hospitals - JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute in Edison and Shore Rehabilitation Institute in Brick. 


Additionally, the network has more than 500 patient care locations throughout the state which include ambulatory care centers, surgery centers, home health services, long-term care and assisted living communities, ambulance services, lifesaving air medical transportation, fitness and wellness centers, rehabilitation centers, urgent care centers and physician practice locations. Hackensack Meridian Health has more than 35,000 team members, and 7,000 physicians and is a distinguished leader in health care philanthropy, committed to the health and well-being of the communities it serves.


John Theurer Cancer Center part of HMH, is one of only 16 NCI Designated Cancer Consortium in partnership with Georgetown Lombardi. In addition HMH has partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering to accelerate discovery and make sure patients have access to the highest quality, most individualized cancer care when and where they need it.


The network’s notable distinctions include having four hospitals among the top in New Jersey by U.S. News and World Report. Other honors include consistently achieving Magnet® recognition for nursing excellence from the American Nurses Credentialing Center and being named to Becker’s Healthcare’s “150 Top Places to Work in Healthcare/2019” list.


The Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University opened in 2018, the first private medical school in New Jersey in more than 50 years, welcomed its second class of 96 students in 2019 to its On3 campus in Nutley and Clifton.


Hackensack Meridian Health is a member of AllSpire Health Partners, an interstate consortium of leading health systems, to focus on the sharing of best practices in clinical care and achieving efficiencies. 

For additional information, please visit



Founded in 2003, the 1,367-seat Bergen Performing Arts Center, or bergenPAC, is the area’s cultural mecca. Housed in a historic Art Deco-style theater boasting one of the finest acoustic halls in the United States, bergenPAC attracts a stellar roster of world-class entertainment. The jewel in our crown isThe Performing Arts School at bergenPAC – the innovative, educational performing arts initiative that, through programs, classes, outreach, school shows, and main theater presented shows, reach more than 30,000 students and community youth annually. The Performing Arts School provides community youth, age 2 months to 21 years, with unique, “hands-on” training in music, dance and theater by industry professionals. It is through the ongoing generosity of sponsors, donors, members, and patrons that the not-for-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation bergenPAC and The Performing Arts School are able to thrive and enrich our community.